by Matt Ferner
Popular University of Colorado Boulder sociology professor Patty Adler will resume teaching her “Deviance in U.S. Society” class after university officials raised concern last month over a prostitution lecture she gave — one she has given for more than 20 years without incident.
“After more than a month marked by trauma, turmoil, and great emotional distress for my family and myself, I am proud to say that the University of Colorado has backed down from their initial position and is allowing me to return to teach this semester in the course, Deviance in U.S. Society,” Adler said in a statement released Thursday. “During this process my character was severely and repeatedly defamed by administration officials, I was denied academic freedom and due process, my rights to privacy in a personnel matter were trampled, I was both intimidated and induced to take early retirement, and was then buffeted by the continuous and changing stories coming from the University as they attempted to cover-up their egregious mishandling of my case.”
Adler also added: “Although it is gratifying that the Dean of Arts and Sciences has affirmed the Sociology Department Executive Committee’s affirmation of the Ad Hoc Committee’s decision to permit me to continue teaching a course that for 25 years has been held in high esteem with no reported complaints, the fact that it had to undergo this extraordinary scrutiny to reverse CU’s initial jump to judgment is a sad statement on what is occurring in universities.”
Read Adler’s full statement at The Daily Camera. Watch more statements from Adler about the controversy and her decision to return, above.
CU-Boulder spokesperson Bronson Hilliard told The Denver Post that Adler would indeed return to teaching, but that the university would not be apologizing to Adler for their statements regarding the lecture controversy.
“We stand by the statements we’ve made,” Hilliard said. “Those statements were simply designed to articulate what we felt the issues were in this particular case. They were not designed to attack Professor Adler at any level and we don’t believe they did.”
During a Nov. 5 lecture on prostitution in her “Deviance” class, The Daily Camera reported that some of Adler’s teaching assistants — who are also undergraduate students — dressed as various types of prostitutes to portray their lifestyles to the class in a skit.
Adler, who called the class “the highlight of the semester in my signature course,” described what goes on during the prostitution lecture to Inside Higher Ed:
She seeks volunteers from among assistant teaching assistants (who are undergraduates) to dress up as various kinds of prostitutes — she named as categories “slave whores, crack whores, bar whores, streetwalkers, brothel workers and escort services.” They work with Adler on scripts in which they describe their lives as these types of prostitutes.During the lecture, Adler talks with them (with the assistant teaching assistants in character) about such issues as their backgrounds, “how they got into the business,” how much they charge, the services they perform, and the risks they face of violence, arrest and AIDS. The class is a mix of lecture and discussion, just like most classes, she said.
CU-Boulder Provost Russell L. Moore sent out a memo to faculty, staff and students after rumors that Adler was being “forced out” over the lecture began to spread. “Professor Adler has not been dismissed from the university and is not being forced to retire,” Moore wrote in the memo. “Dismissal requires extensive due process proceedings, and the university does not coerce its faculty to retire. She remains a tenured faculty member in sociology at CU-Boulder.”
However Adler characterized the situation differently in an interview with Inside Higher Ed:
Adler said that she was given the choice of accepting a buyout now, or staying but not teaching the course, and not giving the prostitution lecture, and to be aware that she could be fired and lose her retirement benefits if anyone complained about her teaching in the future.
The lecture was reportedly reviewed by CU’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment, which found it to be a “risk” to the university, Adler said to The Daily Camera.
Moore went on to explain in the memo that University administrators heard from a number of concerned students about the prostitution lecture over the way it was presented and “the environment it created for both students in the class and for teaching assistants.” Moore also states that a number of students and faculty raised concerns about academic freedom in connection to the controversy over Adler’s lecture.
“Academic freedom protects faculty who teach controversial and uncomfortable/ unpopular subjects,” Moore wrote. “However, academic freedom does not allow faculty members to violate the university’s sexual harassment policy by creating a hostile environment for their teaching assistants, or for their students attending the class.”
In the memo Moore also claims that “student assistants made it clear to administrators that they felt there would be negative consequences for anyone who refused to participate in the skit. None of them wished to be publicly identified.”
Other students, supportive of Adler, set up an online petition demanding that CU-Boulder keep her on as a professor.
“Patti Adler is a professor in the Sociology Department at CU Boulder who teaches Deviance,” the petition reads. “In her lecture, she presented a skit about prostitution as an interactive learning activity. The university saw this as ‘inappropriate’ and decided to force a buyout upon her. The lecture was attempting to make a lesson about a deviant activity more interesting (considering that the class is indeed entitled ‘Deviance’). This petition will assist in presenting to the school’s administrators how important she is to the student body here, and how much of a poor decision we think this is by the school.”
After a traumatic month, Adler will return to CU-Boulder, but doing so isn’t a decision that came easy to her. “I had a very hard decision to make in coming back this semester,” Adler wrote in an email to the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. “But part of what propelled me was how hard so many people worked to protect my academic freedom, and I felt that I had to come back and stand up for that.”
Schools: University of Colorado at Boulder